Not only were the Whitehorse Huskies running a deficit on the scoreboard in both games against the Regals over the weekend, they were in the red financially as well.
As much as the 6-3 and 5-3 losses stung, the games’ low-ticket sales could have a much bigger impact on the team.
“If they want to see hockey in the town, they have to come out and support this,” said Huskies assistant coach Jay Glass after Saturday’s game. “It may not be this next year, it may turn into a Junior B team or a Junior A team, and this is the trial right now.
“If people don’t want to come out and watch, then we can’t blame anyone but ourselves – there’s not going to be any competitive hockey here for the kids to watch.”
Approximately 770 fans attended the Huskies’ season opener on November 20, but there were a lot more empty seats at Takhini Arena last weekend.
Final numbers have not been calculated, but about 360 fans attended the AAA game on Friday and about 240 on Saturday. After the accounting is done, head coach Randy Merkel expects the team to have lost thousands.
“We probably only pulled in between $7,000 and $10,000 and expenses are in the $14,000 range,” he said.
Each series the Huskies play is a substantial investment, with the team footing the bill for the visiting teams, including flights and accommodations. On top of that, the Huskies pay $1,255 to rent Takhini Arena for each two-night series, plus there’s the cost of advertising, referees, announcers, timekeepers and other expenses.
“We paid the lady to sing the anthem and we give minor hockey money to mind the gate,” said Merkel.
The Huskies team is prepared to take the loss from the weekend and stay on track with the season, but Merkel warns continued low attendance will kill the team.
“It’s a very real possibility (the team could fold) unless we get some corporate influx of money or something happens that will help us stay alive,” said Merkel. “Even if someone comes along with corporate money and sponsors us, it’s only an amount of time before that money disappears if we don’t get the fans.”
Now, with the eight Outside recruits needing to fly in for games, the Huskies must sell approximately 600 tickets a game to break even.
If the team were to fold after this season, it would be a loss for more than elite local players and full-contact hockey fans. Each game the Huskies have played has provided a venue for minor teams to raise money with 50/50 draws and beer gardens. So far every Whitehorse Mustangs team and the Avalanche girls team has profited from Huskies games.
“Our gross team expenses including travel, ice costs, insurance, team clothing, etcetera, is estimated at $125,000 for the season,” wrote Marjaana Glass, team manager of the FSC bantam Mustangs, in an e-mail to the News. “We take our fundraising very seriously and appreciate all who sponsor us and all the opportunities that come around.
“Due to the low attendance (on Saturday) we profited about $500, whereas the beer gardens we ran in November profited about $1,200 per night.”
If attendance remains low, the Huskies may need to take over the beer garden to help finance the team, said Merkel.
“We’re trying to support minor hockey through the various means we can,” he said. “We may have to take the beer gardens the next series because we have to run it ourselves to make the money, but that’s mainly because of low attendance.”
Besides raising money, lifting the skills of local players, providing a team for high-level local player to compete on, giving minor league players something to work towards, the Huskies are role-models for local youngsters, a fact made obvious by the 10 or so kids waiting for autographs outside of the locker room after Saturday’s game.
“I remember when the Huskies were here before and that was a very active part of it,” said Merkel, who was on the Allan Cup champion Huskies team in 1993, just before the team went dormant for 16 seasons.
“They look up to these players, so I try my best to have the players involved with that kind of thing and get with the kids and be receptive to them.”
The Huskies are scheduled to play the Fort Saint John Flyers – the current team of former NHLer Theoren Fleury – March 19 and 20 in Whitehorse.
“Because of shortfalls financially, it’s imperative now that we have not only a strong ticket drive the next series, but we need to have some corporate people to come forward and see the value in this thing,” said Merkel. “If we end up with no corporate help and no people coming to the game, there’s only one place we’ll end up.
“We’re trying to do our best to keep this thing going. It’s good for the kids, it’s good for minor hockey – it’s good for everybody.
“The bottom line is we need the support.”
Though the team’s future is uncertain, the quality of hockey is not.
“Our best advertisement right now is getting people to talk to the people that came out and watched the games,” said Merkel. “The people that came out and watched, saw what we saw, which was really good hockey.
“Full contact men’s hockey at the AAA level is very exciting.”
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